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Honoring a champion of justice

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, United States Supreme Court Justice, died on Friday, Sept. 18. Almost immediately after her death was announced, calls began to honor her memory with vigils at local courthouses. 

I put out a last-minute notice on Facebook suggesting a vigil in front of Justice Hall in the Center for 8 p.m. on Saturday. Not surprisingly, I was the lone attendee that night.

Roz Dimon was one of several people who saw the post after the fact, and felt strongly that there was the need for a gathering. She contacted me, and with the help of social media and word-of-mouth, a story on the Reporter’s website and Facebook account, a Sunday night vigil and celebration was quickly organized.

On Sunday, Sept. 20 more than 50 people gathered in front of Justice Hall for the impromptu event. Candles glowed and masked people quietly and respectfully mingled, sharing their respect and sorrow about the death of the revered justice.

She was small in stature and soft spoken, but possessed an outsized intellect and work ethic. She had an ability to speak her mind in a way that encouraged even those with opposite opinions to listen with respect and examine their thinking.

Appointed in 1993, Justice Ginsburg was the 107th justice, but only the second woman to serve on the highest court in the nation. A ground-breaking lawyer and judge on many fronts, “RBG” became a cultural icon and well-respected on both sides of the aisle.

Although it was widely known she was suffering from metastatic pancreatic cancer, her passing still came as a shock and blow to her admirers.

The gathering Sunday night on the Island, consisting of 18-year-olds to octogenarians, listened to several speakers. Ms. Dimon, clothed in a “Notorious RBG” shirt, shared some thoughts from friends and relatives, including Carol Galligan, who said, “It’s easy to forget what a long road we’ve traveled, but the story of her life will always help us remember.”

It was noted that RBG’s work helped to open doors for many people, especially women. For those whose memory does not extend back beyond the 1970s, it’s easy to think that equal rights are a given, not the result of hard-fought victories.

Asked why she had come to the vigil, Islander Barrie Silver said, “How could I not come? I loved her. Sadness requires community to share and to be comforted.”

Several famous quotes from Justice Ginsburg were read by members of the gathering, drawing appreciative murmurs. I read Maya Angelou’s “When Great Trees Fall,” which exhorts the reader to move beyond grief and fear, to “Be and be better.”

One part of the vigil was remembering the lesson that we can learn from the civility and friendship with people who don’t agree with us. Barbara Barnes spoke about Justice Ginsburg’s respect and friendship with Antonin Scalia, a colleague who often had polar opposite opinions on cases.

Paulann Sheets recalled her encounter with Justice Ginsburg at the first women’s alumnae dinner of Columbia Law School, where she had the honor of listening to the champion of justice and equal rights in person.

The gathering lasted about 30 minutes before candles were extinguished and people dispersed into the night, feeling a little more connected and a little more hopeful, determined to honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memory and legacy.